The U-Bend #16: Poor Dudley
by Andrew Lee and Robert Lanto
“W-what are you d-doing? St-stop it!”
-Dudley (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
Dudley Dursley. What can we say about Dudley? Most people would say he is a spoiled brat. Others would say he’s a very mean person. Dudley is one of the few people Harry had social interactions with (Harry did spend most of his time under the stairs before that fateful day when his life as a Muggle ended and his adventures as a wizard began). At the extreme, Dudley is the meanest Muggle in the novels (with the possible exception of Vernon). But, now we’ve learned better. The dementor attack in Order of the Phoenix has revealed that Dudley is just as vulnerable as anyone else. But the question remains, did Dudley deserve it?
Why wizards? Well, it should be pretty obvious. All of Dudley’s experiences with wizards have been nothing but trouble for him. From his first meeting with Hagrid, the Aunt Marge experience, and meeting the Weasleys, Dudley has suffered time and time again, from getting a pig’s tail to watching his aunt inflate in front of his eyes. Considering the Dursleys’ rather anti-magic stance (plus his upbringing as a wizard-hater), Dudley’s natural reaction would be to fear wizards. Wizards have given nothing but harm to himself and his family. To rub salt into an already painful wound, Harry – the scraggly-haired boy hes supposed to be better than – is considered a wizarding hero.
Dudley’s first experience with a wizard, well, technically at least, is his first encounter with Hagrid. At the end of that he ends up with a pig’s tail! Your first time meeting something incredible, and suddenly sitting in chairs becomes a challenge. Of course, reinforcement would be the Aunt Marge incident. Aunt Marge has always talked ill of Harry, but to suddenly see her swell up and float is sure to raise a few eyebrows. Look at when he met the Weasleys. One seemingly harmless piece of candy and Dudley blows up like a balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade! If that happened to you, wouldn’t you be freaked out a little? It’s these three major incidents which would ultimately define Dudley’s image of wizards.
For the younger years of his life, Dudley enjoyed being the authority figure around Number Four Privet Drive. His parents would always pay attention to him, and he usually got what he wanted. Harry was Dudley’s favorite punching bag, and oh how Dudley enjoyed chasing him around the town. Harry was nothing more than an obstacle in Dudley’s path, but Dudley made sure Harry knew his place. Suddenly, everything changes when Harry finds out his wizarding heritage. Now Harry can fight back. Dudley’s world is thrown in a loop. He suddenly has something to fear: Harry’s powers. Falling into the snake pit, getting a pig’s tail, watching your aunt expand and then having your tongue swell up is bound to make you afraid of wizards. Dudley’s reaction to wizards and magic is natural, he fears them. After all, nothing good has happened to him.
All this adds up to Dudley’s reaction to the appearance of the dementor in Little Whinging. Dudley’s worse fear has come true. An invisible enemy, in this case the removal of his sight, that can inflict pain on him at their choosing. It would be Dudley’s worst fear, he cannot fight back properly, and is subject to harm. Of course, all this really adds up to the fact that Dudley is afraid that Harry may seek revenge for his acts when they were younger. If there’s anything that Dudley is afraid of, it is the possibility of Harry seeking revenge.
In the end though, should we be surprised how Dudley fears wizards? No, Dudley has suffered a lot of trauma living with Harry. And while he may have brought it upon himself, Dudley deserves much better. It was partly Dudley who turned Harry into the anti-Voldemort machine that he is today. Without trying to escape Dudley’s constant beatings and traps, Harry would not have the keen senses to elude Voldemort and the Death Eaters. What? You think we’re nuts. Well you’re partially right, but let’s explain why Dudley is an unsung hero.
Throughout the course of Harry’s childhood at the Dursleys, Dudley has always tortured Harry. Whether by chasing, beating or some other form of torture Dudley has always enjoyed using Harry as his punching bag. But, with so many years of these abuses Harry gets good at avoiding Dudley. He starts outrunning Dudley and hiding (remember the schoolyard incident where he ends up on the roof) or developing a somewhat thicker skin (to withstand all the cuts and bruises received over the years). Harry’s great physical fitness is gained from the years of enduring life with Dudley. After all, in the most physical of his battles (the one against the basilisk) Harry kept on going like the Energizer Bunny. Unless Godric Gryffindor’s sword is so fine that it cuts through steel like butter, Harry must use a lot of strength to pierce the basilisk’s hide. Don’t forget that the basilisk’s hide is probably very tough from years of living in the caverns (there are probably sharp pointy rocks everywhere) and traveling in the pipes. So to beat the monster, Harry uses brute strength to win. So when it came time to outrun it, Harry had already developed that toughness from life with Dudley.
Harry’s speed at running would especially come in handy when he had to outrun all the curses (and spells) while outrunning the Death Eaters twice. Notice that during the chase scene in Order of the Phoenix it was Harry who lead his group? This is because of his incredible physical fitness that he was able to run so fast. Harry also probably got his quick reflexes this way as well. It is natural to raise your arm to avoid a blow to the head (or ducking), and with years of things probably flying at his head, Harry has the reflexes to catch a Golden Snitch. Also, because of all the traps that Dudley sets up to ambush Harry (probably for beating), notice that Harry has a better sense of when danger is approaching. Well, years of Dudley waiting in the shadows seems to have given Harry the power to sense danger around the corner. As for swimming (second Tri-Wizard challenge), this trait remains more of a mystery. After all, would the Dursleys ever take Harry to the beach? Are there really deep enough ponds for Dudley to throw Harry into? Both seem doubtful, but it’s possible Harry learned to swim at Hogwarts.
If Dudley has indeed trained Harry to be a Voldemort-fighting machine, why the scrawny look and not a buff, macho Harry? Well, that’s because of malnutrition, which we can blame on Dudley. After all, Dudley is the eating machine in the family.
So when it comes down to it, Dudley didn’t really do Harry a disservice during all those years of torture. Harry gained a lot of strength, reflexes and skills throughout his childhood. So is it fair for Dudley to the tortured so by the hands of wizards? The answer is no. Dudley actually gave Harry a head start in being able to stay physically fit and avoid danger. Every physical challenge that Harry has faced, he has (usually) managed to emerge victorious thanks to Dudley’s exercise course. Ah, Dudley the unsung hero of the Potter series. For your invaluable service to aiding Harry’s survival: Dudley Dursley, we salute you!